There is a lag of three days between the promise that Joshua and the people would possess the land west of the Jordan and the fulfillment and experience of that promised reality. Certainly the promise wasn’t any less real on the first day it was given, than on the third day, but the people’s experience of the promise was different. On the day the promise was given , there would be anticipation and hope. Faith would be the operative word during these three days. People would be asking, “What do these words of God mean? How will they come to pass?”
But on the third day, the reality of the promise would begin to unfold in living color for all to experience and enjoy. Faith would take a lesser seat in light of the great redemption and victory about the be won at Jericho, by God, though faith wouldn’t entirely disappear as the little skirmishes to possess the land would continue to call the nation into obedience to their God.
Are not the parallels to Christ and his death and resurrection hinted at here? Jesus promised the world that if the temple was destroyed, he would rebuild it in three days. He called Peter to persevere in the faith and not to turn back to worthless things, but to hold firm and encourage the disciples. All along and throughout his ministry, Jesus had spoken about his death and resurrection, his impending suffering and then exaltation and on Good Friday, the promise and the fulfillment and experience of these truths by the people of God was placed into a time of faith, wonder and anticipation. How can our Lord rise again, he is dead? How can we never die if he was crucified? How can we not be discouraged, the one who loves us has been taken from us?
But on that third day all the lag and wonder and faith was replaced by a tasty experience. The tomb was emptied, the Lord spoke to Mary, then the twelve and more than 500 after that. On that third day, the liberating power of Jesus over the grave was displayed. It wasn’t any less true that Jesus would conquer the grave on Good Friday, but our experience of it was wanting as a living people.
But this was not so for those who had already died. The Word of God tells us that the repentant thief, crucified with Jesus, was to join the Lord in paradise on that Good Friday. Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that the holy dead were raised at the point of Jesus’ death. For those already dead, the promise and fulfillment of the conquest of the grave were co-terminal because the word of God is powerful and accomplishes its work immediately upon being uttered. But for the living, the struggle between promise and fulfillment took three days before they were able to experience the new life in the Promised Land.
At this point, faith became experience. Seeing was believing and so the truth was real, earned and available to all people on that Easter Sunday. All that remained was to go forth and do as God instructed so that the entire world might become the land of the people of God, brought into submission to the reigning King. Such is the life of the Christian, living in the three days even now. Our Lord has promised to return and we hold onto that promise in faith, but one day, our faith will be replaced with sight and our hope with experience. Yet we must never wonder, if the promise is really true. The promise of God are always true in Christ. He is the both the promise and the fulfillment for all that we long for and all that God has purposed for us.